Will Jake Chapman's big swing at teachers play in a swing district?

Opening day speeches at the Iowa legislature are often filled with boring platitudes. But Senate President Jake Chapman dispensed with cliches about bipartisan work for the common good in his welcoming remarks on January 10.

Instead, the chamber’s second-ranking Republican called on colleagues to “take a stand” against what he described as a “sinister agenda” by the media and teachers, “who wish to normalize sexually deviant behavior against our children.”

Chapman’s broadside made headlines across the state and quickly inspired a new RAYGUN t-shirt: “Just another SINISTER TEACHER who’s passionate about education.”

Many conservatives have applauded Chapman for his crusade to remove books he considers “obscene” from public schools and create a felony offense for teachers and librarians who disseminate such material. But Iowa’s new political map put the Senate president in a swing district for the first time. He hinted last month that he will seek re-election there, rather than moving to a solid Republican district nearby.

Conspiracy theories that play well in some GOP circles could drive suburban moderates toward Democratic State Senator Sarah Trone Garriott, who is already running in Senate district 14.

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Where things stand in Iowa House district 89

Bleeding Heartland’s legislative campaign coverage has tended to focus on battleground districts. But next year, Democrats will have more open seats than usual in solid blue Iowa House or Senate districts.

Although those races won’t affect control of either legislative chamber, they could be important for the future of the Iowa Democratic Party. Lawmakers from safe seats may rise to leadership positions at the statehouse or run for higher office someday. So I intend to keep a close eye on contested primaries in some districts that won’t be competitive in November.

One such race is shaping up in Iowa House district 89, where long-serving State Representative Mary Mascher announced last month that she will not seek re-election. Three Democrats are actively campaigning here. The newest contender, Tony Currin, will take several advantages into the primary.

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State appeals ruling on law targeting trans Iowans

The Iowa Department of Human Services (DHS) is appealing a Polk County District Court ruling that found the state law and policy designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery are unconstitutional. The state filed notice of its intent to appeal on December 17, near the end of its 30-day window to do so following the District Court’s decision in November.

The Iowa Attorney General’s office had no comment on the appeal. Governor Kim Reynolds’ office also had no comment on why the governor is determined to prevent transgender Iowans on Medicaid from receiving medically necessary care approved by their doctors.

Plaintiffs Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington have been waiting for years to obtain surgery and first challenged the state law in court within weeks of Reynolds signing the provision into law in May 2019.

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Court finds law targeting trans Iowans unconstitutional

For Aiden Vasquez and Mika Covington, the news was life-changing. Polk County District Court Judge William Kelly ruled on November 19 that Iowa’s law designed to deny Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming surgery “violates the equal protection clause of the Iowa Constitution.”

He ordered the Iowa Department of Human Services to change a longstanding regulation “excluding coverage for sex reassignment surgery” and said the agency must apply the revised rule to allow “transgender individuals coverage under Iowa Medicaid for medically necessary gender affirming surgery for the treatment of Gender Dysphoria and other relevant diagnoses.”

Vasquez and Covington are transgender Iowans who qualify for Medicaid and have been unable to obtain the health care they need for years. They have been seeking legal redress since soon after Governor Kim Reynolds signed the discriminatory statute in May 2019.

Naturally, not everyone was happy with what the ACLU of Iowa’s legal director Rita Bettis Austen described as a “historic win for civil rights in Iowa.” Soon after the court ruling was published on November 22, Reynolds’ spokesperson Alex Murphy told reporters, “The governor’s office is disappointed in today’s decision and disagrees with the district court’s ruling on Medicaid coverage for transgender reassignment surgeries.”

Reynolds echoed the sentiment when speaking to reporters on November 23: “Of course we were disappointed with the ruling and disagree […] My legal team is looking at it. There will be more to come later on. We’re still looking through it and trying to determine what our options are.”

She should stop fighting this battle.

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The real obscenity is punching down on marginalized kids

On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, I should be writing about the 46 transgender or gender non-conforming people who have been killed in the United States so far in 2021—the most recorded in a single year. Most of those murder victims were people of color; young Black trans women are especially at risk.

Iowa Republicans didn’t speak out today for ensuring the safety or equality of trans or gender-nonconforming people. When GOP politicians acknowledge LGBTQ Iowans exist, it’s usually to portray them (and any attempt to accommodate them) as a threat to straight white Christians, whom Republicans value above all others.

Governor Kim Reynolds scored points with her base by scapegoating trans athletes in the spring. More recently, conservative politicians and their activist allies have demanded that high school libraries remove books that explore sexual themes, especially queer sexuality. They are also targeting books by authors of color that supposedly contain obscenity or portray some institutions in a negative way.

Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman announced this week that he is having legislation drafted “to create a new felony offense” in Iowa for educators who disseminate “what I believe to be obscene material.” Chapman promised his bill will have “additional mechanisms to force prosecutions or allow civil remedies.”

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You cannot make this up

Senator Chuck Grassley struck an indignant tone a few hours after he and all of his fellow Republicans filibustered a bill that would have forced states to meet federal standards for absentee and early voting, and would have required more political groups to disclose their donors.

In his trademark Twitter style (lacking punctuation and some vowels), Grassley told his 660,000 followers that Democrats should drop their “massive partisan election takeover bill based on lies abt widespread voter suppression.” Anyone with proof of illegal discrimination in voting should take it to court, he said. “Don’t talk down our democratic process Best in world.”

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